State Is Likely to Ease a Rule on Extra Help for Students

The New York State Board of Regents is set to excuse school districts from a requirement to provide extra help to all students who fail the state’s standardized exams, a number that grew by hundreds of thousands after the state made the exams tougher to pass this year.
The vote by the board, which is scheduled for early next week, would cover more than 125,000 students in New York City alone. City officials, however, played down the issue, saying it would not change their requirement that schools come up with plans to address the needs of all their struggling students.
John King, the state’s deputy education commissioner, said Tuesday that the loosened restriction was intended to reduce the financial burden on districts at a time of shrinking budgets. It is also part of a move by Albany to give districts more flexibility in following a policy that, since 1999, has mandated academic intervention for children who fail the standardized tests.
When the tougher standard on math and English tests for third through eighth graders was announced this summer, Mr. King said, “districts around the state had already passed their budgets, and there was a question of whether the Regents were in the position to essentially impose a new, unfunded mandate.”
Students who would have failed their English or math exams even under the old, easier standard will still receive extra help, usually in the form of tutoring or counseling. The vote would relieve districts of the requirement to provide help to the large number of students who would have passed under the old standards but failed under the new. The relief would last a year.
Shael Polakow-Suransky, the city’s deputy chancellor for performance and accountability, said that while budget cuts meant there would be no extra money to pay for help for the struggling students, schools were expected to improve instruction and have more flexibility in their planning time. “I don’t think the Regents’ vote will have much impact one way or other,” he said.
But some city elected officials and advocates expressed concern that schools would use the leniency as an excuse not to provide help to children who need it.
“I don’t want to see school districts let off the hook here,” said Bill de Blasio, the city’s public advocate. “We had a seismic change, and so far, what we have seen is an attempt to minimize the meaning of it.”
Mr. de Blasio released new data from the city on Tuesday that gave a clearer picture of who exactly those children were. Of the 239,000 city students who failed the English test, 108,000 would have passed last year. Of the 196,000 city students who failed the math test, most, 125,000, would have passed under the easier standard. Surprisingly, the newly failing students were spread relatively evenly throughout the city’s 32 school districts, which vary widely in income and race. Between 20 and 30 percent of students in many districts were in the category.
Bob Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, said an informal survey of 14 rural and suburban districts found that about half planned to use the state’s flexibility to not offer academic intervention to students who would have passed in 2009.
“Most had said early on they were going to do whatever they could, so I’m surprised,” he said, adding that his association supported the move as a way to avoid more painful cuts, like teacher layoffs. There were also, he said, “significant doubts” in the state about the effectiveness of the mandated tutoring policy.
One group, the Coalition for Educational Justice, planned a rally in Brooklyn on Wednesday to ask the Regents to reconsider.
The exemption for the newly failing students for tutoring and intervention was passed on an emergency basis in July, and Mr. King indicated that he expected the Regents to approve it again next week. That sentiment was echoed by Merryl H. Tisch, the Regents chancellor.
“I just think that at the end of the day the focus on these districts to move their kids to meet the new bar is going to be significant and intense,” even without the mandate, Ms. Tisch said.

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Filed under New York City, Politics, Poverty, Schools

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